Title: The Crime at Halfpenny Bridge (Chief Inspector Littlejohn #11)
Author: George Bellairs
Reprint by Mysterious Press on 23rd Dec 2014; First published on 1st January 1946
Genre: Mystery and Thrillers
The waterfront pub “Welcome Home” in Werrymouth Harbor is closing up; two drunk sailors are on their way home. WWII means blackout but the locals have no trouble finding their way over the Halfpenny Bridge. A ship comes into the channel and the lighthouse guides it to the right port. In the flashes of the light, the two drunk soldiers see two men fighting on the shore. One overpowers the other by hitting him on the head with a sack and the injured man falls into the water.
The man drowns to his death while the murderer escapes. The local Superintendent of Police, Hoggart, asks Scotland Yard’s help. Thomas Littlejohn is enjoying a vacation at his friend’s place and is assigned to the case. (The friend’s place is close to Werrymouth so Littlejohn can take the bus to the town.)
The story starts with a noisy scene at “Welcome Home” and the events leading to the murder of Sam Prank. Meanwhile, at Pleasant Street, Harriet Prank is sitting at home, picking up a fight with her cousin/caretaker Jane Prank. Jane leaves the room and comes back a little later to find Harriet passed out. Harriet has a weak heart and a little sip of brandy or two during these ‘passouts’ helps her in regaining conscious. But the brandy bottle is empty so Jane pays a visit to the neighbour’s house. When Jane and the neighbours come back, Harriet Prank is dead – someone’s pushed a cushion to her face.
You must have realized that the two victims have the same surname. Yes, they are related. Sam Prank is Harriet’s nephew. Are the two murders related? One of the murder cases closes soon after Littlejohn starts to investigate while the other takes him to places high and low. Cromwell, Littlejohn’s sidekick plays a prominent role in this story.
Mrs Cromwell is expecting their first child – and as the story ends, Littlejohn becomes godfather to Cromwell Jr. Lettie, Mrs Littlejohn, is paying a visit to her pregnant sister – the seventh child is due soon. Speaking of children, I used to wonder if Littlejohn and Lettie had any kids of their own. In one of the later books, it is mentioned that they had a daughter but she died at the age of eight.
The reason for the murder is, as usual, one of these: jealousy, envy, anger, hatred. Or, it might very well be a combination of all these! The story loses its pace halfway through. It was entertaining nevertheless. Cromwell and Littlejohn go in search of clues separately. They meet at the station and discuss their findings, with Hoggart present during the time of discussion.
Some importance is given to Cromwell’s sense of dressing. His mannerisms and dressing have changed since his marriage. He now looks like a parson on holiday and when he is on police business, people mistake him for a parson. Hmm! He’s even started to smoke! Marriage changes people, eh? 😉
Of course, Littlejohn needs no introduction. Let me quote an excerpt from the story to give you a brief idea as to how Littlejohn works.
Littlejohn was never one for keeping his thoughts to himself when sharing with colleagues on the job would help the case. In fact, he’d never possessed the effrontery to fend-off his eager colleagues and finally present a dramatic denouement. He was essentially a team man and never tried to keep the ball to himself if, by a pass to a colleague, he could bring the solution nearer.
Poirot, what do you have to say about this? 😉
The ‘N’ word is used thrice but I do not think it was meant to be derogatory – if you read a couple of GAD authors’ works, you will realize Bellairs is far better and decent when it comes to negative remarks. A person of darker skin colouring appears on the scene and to describe them, the ‘N’ word is used.
The story picks up the pace when a certain clue leads Littlejohn to an eccentric weirdo family. The identity of the killer is made known to the reader. But then comes a red herring which might send Littlejohn a tad off-track. But Littlejohn being Littlejohn solves the case in a jiffy. Yeah, he’s the best!
I found the story a tad boring when compared to the other books in this series. If you are a Littlejohn fan, I know you will read this book. 😀 If you are new to this series, try The Case of the Seven Whistlers or Death in the Night Watches or Calamity at Harwood.